Marxism and International Citizenship

Orthodox Marxism and the Contemporary

What is Orthodox Marxism?
Stephen Tumino

(D)evolutionary Socialism
Deborah Kelsh

Corporate Transnationalism and Red Internationalism
Amrohini Sahay

Class, Labor and the "Cyber": A Red Critique of the "Post-Work" Ideologies
Rob Wilkie

Eclipsing Exploitation: 
Transnational Feminism, Sex Work and the State
Jennifer Cotter

Haven't you realized that workers have it pretty good today
Brian Ganter

Revolution as Seduction, Pedagogy as Therapy and The Subject is Always Me
The Red Collective


On September 22, The Red Collective presented a panel at the Rethinking Marxism 2000 conference in Amherst. After the presentation of the papers (included in this issue) at the conference, David Harvey, speaking as an "orthodox" defender of the Marxist theory of class, questioned our totalizing theory of class because, he claimed, in the texts of Marx there is a "slippage" between the theorization of "property" as a question of "ownership" at the level of "production" and as a "legal" category (of "distribution") such that "class" is in fact a "juridical" concern. Soon it became clear that for Harvey, whose The Conditions of Postmodernity and now his Spaces of Hope are widely regarded as the radical limit of Marxism (see, for example, his recent interview in New Left Review, July-August 2000), "orthodox Marxism" is yet another ideological ploy in reinstalling revisionist Marxist views that in effect deploy "class" only to relegitimate cyber-capitalism from within the discourses of the left.

In spite of its thick rhetoric, Harvey's analytical strategies are quite familiar and exceedingly simple—if not simplistic. In his response to The Red Collective's theory of class as articulated at the panel, he made several moves, all of which derived from his political first principle that class is plural. The ideological goal of the "pluralization" of class (and its affiliated moves—diffusion, hybridity...) is to erase the causal relation that concludes that the "rich are rich because the poor are poor" and thus establishes a relation of antagonism between the two contending classes. Pluralization here, as in other post-readings, always obliterates a decided relation and thus turns social relations into autonomous floating practices. Harvey "supported" his neo-Franco-Italian (Foucault cum Negri) plural theory of class as a diffuse process not only by stating that "property" as theorized by Marx was in textual "oscillation" but also, in a move that clearly shows the service the post-al left renders to the capitalist class, by rehearsing the "new economy" dogma that not only private ownership of the "means of production" but all forms of "legal" "owning" (from "shares" to "commodities") constituted "private property," and thus class as a binary between the "propertied" and "propertyless" was "outdated."

(This "death of property" theory is a slightly moderated version of the radical notion of new "property" in the "weightless economy" of the post-market networks developed by bourgeois culture commentator Jeremy Rifkin in his The Age of Access.)

Harvey's return to the superstructural and ideological analysis ("juridical") in engaging class is, of course, the very contrary of the Orthodox Marxist materialist analysis of class as the relation of the subject to the ownership of means of production. Harvey's views, like all ideological "readings" of class, reduces class to "lifestyle" determined by the level of wages received and the amount of "commodities" owned, and, in place of the Marxist notion of class, shores up the ideological panacea of a "shareholder capitalism" which has displaced class antagonism. For him (like Nancy Fraser, J.K. Gibson-Graham and other contributors to the book Class and Its Others packaged by Amitava Kumar and other collaborators) "class" is "income" (whether from "wages," "profits," or "shares"). In equating class with income he, like others, mystifies the source of "income" and thus erases the class antagonism that separates those whose income is from wages from those whose income is from profit—the exploited and the exploiter. "Income," in short, is dehistoricized and treated as a post-materialist Kantian "in itself."

Harvey's "juridical" approach is, in other words, yet another alibi for a hegemonic reading of capitalism that privileges distribution over production, and (bourgeois) rights of property over the collective material needs of producers.

Following Negri (how Harvey manages to be an "orthodox Marxist" and a Negri-ite at the same time is one of the feats of post-al intellectuals who constantly re-package themselves to suit the needs of ever growing left academic markets, in his response to the Red Collective, Harvey appealed to the Gründrisse. The Gründrisse has, for the Negri-ite left, become a canonic text upon which to base their revisionism because, they argue, it is here that Marx actually abandons the materialist theory of history in which production—the economic "base"—is the determining moment of the "superstructure"—and becomes a Marxist beyond Marxism. Harvey focused on Marx's view of "distribution" to legitimate his post-production reading of class. However, his reading of "distribution" in Marx in the Gründrisse is itself based on a prior revisionist understanding of dialectics as a mode of hybridization. (To see how this hybridization of dialectics leads him to abandon understanding socialism as "a total shift" from capitalism as "too simplistic and restrictive"—and to deform "socialism" into a neo-Keynesian hybridity of a redistributive capitalism-with-"regulations" in which the "balance between competition and cooperation is altered" see his Spaces of Hope [Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 2000. p.211], especially Part Four "Conversations on the Plurality of Alternatives.")

In Marx's Gründrisse "production" and "distribution" are not hybrids—they are elements of the dialectics of class and labor with historically determinate relations. Marx argues in the Gründrisse (and this is the core of Orthodox Marxism) that the fundamental starting point of analysis is socially determined production. This is not a question of "choice," but of objective analysis.

It was also telling that Harvey, who is now gradually moving from his previous "regulation" theory to a more "radically" pleasureful Derridean reading of class, emphasized an analysis throughout his commentary that fell on "subjectivity." He claimed that "we" (the "poor" readers of Marx) could not really "know" his position (the "rich" reader). This is because for Harvey, capitalism is less a systemic problem than a "subjective" one (of the quantity of commodities that are owned). Marx, on the contrary, begins with production because production is the fundamental basis of social life.


In November 2000, Kimberly DeFazio presented a paper, "Class, Hybridity and the 'Global City,'" at the UCI History and Theory 2000 Conference, "Disrupted Identities and the Question of the Universal." Her paper was a critique of post-al urban studies substitution of a hybrid logic of indeterminacy for class in the analysis of the urban, and argued instead for a red urban studies in which the "global city" is not a site of proliferating identities (as Edward Soja suggests) nor the space of "transnational politics" (as Saskia Sassen suggests), but the articulation of the international division of labor and the working class struggle to end exploitation.

As Hegel argues in his "Introduction" to the Philosophy of Right, the ruling classes, when faced with a crisis of legitimacy, attempt to restrict knowledges from the search for truth which would call into question the basis of their power, to the solipsistic justification of their own existence: "to base philosophic science not on the development of thought and the concept but on immediate sense-perception and the play of fancy." The study of "history" is now faced with such contradictions, between the production of critique-al knowledges that advance the study of history to further the interests of the majority, the direct producers of the world, and those knowledges that simply rationalize the private ownership of the means of production by the ruling class.  It is this contradiction of private ownership of social resources at the core of capitalist development that has brought the study of history to the state of its current "renewal." It is a "renewal," however, that far from returning the study of history to the material basis of society, works to further disconnect history from class struggle, towards what Hegel calls "the restless activity of empty reflection."

Inviting the most clichéd and commodified postmodern and poststructuralist discourses—knowledges which history itself has demonstrated to be little more than bourgeois apologia—the recent UCI History and Theory 2000 Conference was less a forum for the serious questioning of the necessary role that the study of history has in understanding the structures which produce exploitation and inequality than an embarrassing celebration for the re-fashioning of post-al dogma.

Nowhere was this clearer than in the "objections" to DeFazio's paper raised by various conference attendees.  Whether by deploying the objective laws of the uneven development of capitalism as a justification for the argument that "because the world is so complex, it is not possible to take a singular [i.e. class] position," or through the "play-ful" construction of capitalism as an (uncontainable) "lava lamp" which exceeds all attempts at theoretical totalization, the primary interest of those in attendance was escaping the fundamental questions of capitalist exploitation that must be at the center of any serious study of history (and especially study undertaken in the interest of social equality).  In the now familiar policing of knowledge that is symptomatic of all post-al calls for "openness" and "exchange," respondents rejected any position that did not take their privileged codes for social contingency as self-evident but re-situated them as requiring historical explanation. This was strikingly evident in Judith Butler's response to a critique of her keynote presentation: "I thought I was hanging out with my politics, but you guys are always here!"  Like all post-al theorists, who are able to freely "hang out" without fear of reprisal because their work supports those in power, the conference foregrounded the fetishization of the commodified appearances of capitalism over the analysis of the relationality of all social practices and their root in the mode of production. "History," as Marx argues, must be sought in the production of material life and, thus, the study of history must begin with the class struggle over the control of the means of production.  This is not simply a subjective "choice" as postmodernists would claim, but an objective fact.  It is only by beginning with the material basis that one can understand the struggle over the study of history itself.  For example, the post-al theories of history that were on display at the conference foreground "complexity," "irreducibility," "indeterminacy," and "excessive difference" in order to argue that "history" is nothing other than a series of incommensurable discourses vying for temporal dominance.  As Marx argues in the Gründrisse, however, it is only "In this society of free competition" that "the individual appears detached from the natural bonds which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate."  In other words, the "autonomy" of discourses—the basis of the subjectivist reading of history at the core of postmodernism—is only a formal freedom.  It is the representation in theory of the "freedom" of wage-labor: "freedom" from property and "freedom" to sell one's own labor-power.  This "freedom" is the same "freedom" that results in the production of tremendous wealth for those that own the means of production and the barest levels of subsistence for the working class.  Post-al theories of history attempt to erase the material consequences of history in order to encase private property in the museum of "eternal truth."  In celebrating the appearance of "individual" freedom, and thus naturalizing contemporary relations of production, post-al history is, in practice, the violent attempt to rescue bourgeois society from its current crisis of legitimacy.

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